Archive for March 12, 2011

A Census of the Ridiculous

Posted in Bad Statistics, History with tags , , , , on March 12, 2011 by telescoper

My form for the 2011 Census arrived yesterday. Apparently they were all posted out on Monday, so that’s 5 days in the post. Par for the course for the Royal Mail these days. I’m slightly surprised it arrived at all.

There’s a hefty £1000 fine for not completing the Census, so I suppose I’ll fill it in, despite my feeling that it’s both intrusive and unnecessary. What’s worse is that several of the questions are so badly designed that the information resulting will be useless.

For example, according to the census guide:

Very careful consideration is given to the questions included in the census. Questions must meet the needs of a substantial number of users in order that the census is acceptable to the public and yields good quality data. The questions are selected following several rounds of consultation with:

  • central and local government
  • academia
  • health authorities
  • the business community
  • groups representing ethnic minorities and others with special interests and concerns

Hang on. The “business community”? Why should they be consulted? What do they want with my personal information? I thought the census data was for planning public services!  On the other hand, when everything is privatised maybe all our personal data will be flogged off to the private sector anyway.

The 2011 Census is the first one to include a question on health. According to the saturation advertising about the census, this question will help plan new hospitals and distribute NHS funding. So what is the new question, the answer to which will provide such valuable data? Here it is, together with the possible responses:

13. How is your health in general?

  • Very good
  • Good
  • Fair
  • Bad
  • Very Bad

And that’s it for “health”. Does anyone actually believe such a vague question is  going to be of any use at all in planning NHS services? I certainly don’t.

And then there’s the famous question about religion.

20. What is your religion?

For a start I don’t think my religion or lack of it should be any concern to the government. To be fair, however, this question is marked as “voluntary” so respondents are allowed not to answer it without getting locked up in the Tower of London. But in any case it’s a leading question and should never have been included in the census in this form anyway. “Do you have a religion and, if so, what is it?” would have been much better.

I could go on, but I’ve got better things to do today.

I’ll just say this last thing about the Census. Most of it clearly has nothing whatever to do with planning public services. In fact the government already holds most of the information about your private circumstances the form demands. The Census is nothing more an opportunity for the government to cross-check tax, benefit or other records in the hope of finding inaccuracies. In other words, Big Brother is watching you.

And the cost of all this snooping? A whopping £500 million, more than double the cost of the 2001 Census, and all of it  at a time of huge cuts to public services. You have to laugh, don’t you?